In my previous article, I discussed the idea of “coonery buffoonery” which was presented by Spike Lee when talking about Tyler Perry’s movies. Coonery buffoonery is “antics and behavior” that are displayed by certain individuals in the black culture, resulting in embarrassment for the rest of the black community.
This idea of “coonery buffoonery” has been around since the time of slavery. In the past, it was portrayed through minstrel shows and other forms of entertainment. As time progressed, minstrel shows became socially unacceptable, and the white-owned production companies weren’t forcing this kind of entertainment anymore.
From minstrel shows, certain (and slightly offensive) caricatures popped up such as mammy and Tom. They were interpretations of the characters from the minstrel shows. The character of mammy is shown as a happy, overweight woman. She is a people-pleaser and does whatever she is asked. The character of Tom is supposed to be the male counterpart of mammy. Some of these became toys that were sold for a period of time before being recalled. These were meant to show slavery as a “positive” institution which made everyone happy, which wasn’t really the case.
In 2001, a controversial Spike Lee movie came out called Bamboozled. The movie demonstrates the lengths that some black entertainers go to in order to entertain others. In this movie, a Harvard-educated black man (Pierre Delacroix), who works for a television network, creates a satirical minstrel show in order to get fired. He tries to make his show ridiculously racist and stereotypical. In his show, he has “black actors with even blacker faces.”
Bamboozled presents the idea of a twisted minstrel show and portrays negative black stereotypes. I found this movie offensive because of how real it is. Although the “audience” knew what was going on in this show was wrong, they laughed at the negative stereotypes. Popular opinion spread like wildfire. People accepted this negative portrayal of blacks because everyone else seemed to be doing it.
In the same way, recent movies present similar stereotypes– but in a less threatening way. They are still what Spike Lee considers “coonery buffoonery”– but since they are funny, they are accepted.
If you asked someone in my generation who Madea is, they will associate her with loud, troublesome, full of attitude, and black. In movies such as Madea Goes to Jail, she is not shown in a positive light. There are stereotypes around her that, at times, extend to the rest of the black community. It is similar to the minstrel tradition of the past — the negative portrayal of blacks, except this time the companies are owned and controlled by blacks. The stereotypes that she reinforces are far-fetched and untrue, but because the character is popular and the shows entertaining, people believe them.
Similarly, characters such as Craig and Smokey in Friday are also shown in a bad way. They are poor, living in the ghetto, and lazy– similar to the way African Americans were portrayed in minstrel shows.
In our generation, movies like this are tainting people’s opinions. Kids my age aren’t worldly enough to separate the movie stereotypes from reality. This goes for teenagers of all races– some black teenagers accept and embrace these stereotypes. They believe that this is how they should act.
With Bamboozled, Spike Lee was trying to get people to see that stereotypes such as these are wrong. Has this worked? Since 2001, movies that are considered ‘coonery and buffoonery’ are still come from Hollywood. Movies such as Friday, Soul Plane, and Don’t Be A Menace To South Central continue to spread these negative stereotypes.
For 60 years blacks have been fighting oppression and stereotypes; however, for some reason they continue to generate them. With Bamboozled, Spike Lee was trying to bring attention to these stereotypes by shocking and angering people.
Despite his attempts, it seems like the wrong and negative stereotypes are being accepted because of what people see in movies and shows. Like in Bamboozled, audiences today become comfortable with these slightly offensive shows. They accept and embrace the stereotypes– except this time they are created and owned by blacks. No one is offended even though the line between stereotype and reality is blurred– and it’s hard for some people to make this separation.